Chapter no 62

Empire of Storms

The witch was lucid but pissed off.

Aedion had the pleasure of serving her breakfast and tried not to note the lingering scent of female arousal in the cabin, or that Dorian’s scent was entwined among it.

The king was entitled to move on, Aedion reminded himself hours later as he scanned the late afternoon horizon from the ship’s helm. In the quiet hours of his watches, he’d often mulled over the thorough scolding Lysandra had given him regarding his anger and cruelty toward the king. And maybe—just maybe—Lysandra was right. And maybe the fact that Dorian could even look at a female with interest after seeing Sorscha beheaded was a miracle. But … the witch? That was what he wanted to tangle with?

He asked Lysandra as much when she joined him thirty minutes later, still soaked from patrolling the waters ahead. All clear.

Lysandra finger-combed her inky sheet of hair, frowning. “I had clients who lost their wives or lovers, and wanted something to distract them. Wanted the opposite of who their beloved had been, perhaps to make the act feel wholly separate. What he went through would change anyone. He might very well find himself now attracted to dangerous things.”

“He already had a penchant for them,” Aedion murmured, glancing to where Aelin and Rowan sparred on the main deck, sweat gleaming golden as the afternoon light shifted toward evening. Dorian perched on the nearby steps up to the quarterdeck, Damaris braced over his knees, half awake in the heat. Part of Aedion smiled, knowing Rowan would no doubt kick his ass for it.

“Aelin was dangerous, but still human,” Lysandra observed. “Manon is

… not. He probably likes it that way. And I’d stay out of it if I were you.”

“I’m not getting in the middle of that disaster, don’t worry. Though I wouldn’t let those iron teeth near my favorite part if I were him.” Aedion grinned as Lysandra tipped her head back and laughed. He added, “Besides, watching Aelin and the witch go head-to-head this morning about Elide was enough to remind me to stay the hell back and enjoy the spectacle.”

Little Elide Lochan—alive and out there, searching for them. Gods above. The look on Aelin’s face when Manon had revealed detail after detail, what Vernon had tried to do to the girl …

There would be a reckoning in Perranth for that. Aedion himself would hang the lord by his intestines. While Vernon was still breathing. And then he’d get started on paying Vernon back for the ten years of horror Elide had endured. For the maimed foot and the chains. For the tower.

Locked in a tower—in a city he’d visited so many times in the past ten years he had no count. She might have even watched the Bane from that spire as they came and left the city. Possibly thinking he’d forgotten or didn’t care about her, either.

And now she was out there. Alone.

With a permanently mangled foot, no training, and no weapons. If she was lucky, perhaps she’d run into the Bane first. His commanders would recognize her name, protect her. That is, if she dared to reveal herself at all.

It had taken all his self-control not to strangle Manon for abandoning the girl in the middle of Oakwald, for not flying her right to Terrasen.

Aelin, however, hadn’t bothered with restraint.

Two strikes, both so fast even the Wing Leader didn’t see them. A backhanded blow to Manon’s face. For leaving Elide.

And then a ring of fire around Manon’s throat, slamming her into the wood, as Aelin made her swear the information was correct.

Rowan had drily reminded Aelin that Manon was responsible for Elide’s escape and rescue, too. Aelin had merely said if Manon hadn’t been, the fire would already be down her throat.

And that was that.

Aelin, from the fervor with which she sparred with Rowan across the deck, was still pissed.

The witch, from the snarling and scent in her cabin, was still pissed.

Aedion was more than ready to get to the Stone Marshes—even if what awaited them there might not be so pleasant.

Three more days lay between them and the eastern coast. And then … then they’d all see how much Rolfe’s alliance was worth, if the man could be trusted.

“You can’t avoid him forever, you know,” Lysandra said, drawing his attention to the other reason he needed to get off this ship.

His father sat near where Abraxos had curled along the prow, guarding and observing the wyvern. Learning how to kill them—where to strike.

No matter that the wyvern was little more than an oversized hound, docile enough that they hadn’t bothered to chain him. They had none big enough anyway, and the beast would likely refuse to leave this ship until Manon did. Abraxos only moved to hunt for fish or larger game, Lysandra escorting him in sea dragon form beneath the waves. And when the beast was sprawled on the deck … the Lion kept him company.

Aedion had barely spoken to Gavriel since Skull’s Bay.

“I’m not avoiding him,” Aedion said. “I just have no interest in talking to him.”

Lysandra flipped her wet hair over a shoulder, frowning at the damp splotches on her white shirt. “I, for one, would like to hear the story of how he crossed paths with your mother. He’s kind—for one of Maeve’s cadre. Better than Fenrys.”

Indeed, Fenrys made Aedion want to shatter things. That laughing face, the swaggering, dark arrogance … It was another mirror, he realized. But one who tracked Aelin everywhere like some dog. Or wolf, he supposed.

Aedion hadn’t pitted himself against the male in the sparring ring, but he’d carefully watched Fenrys take on Rowan and Gavriel, both of whom had trained the male. Fenrys fought as he’d expect a warrior with centuries of training by two lethal killers to fight. But he had not glimpsed another whisper of the magic that allowed Fenrys to leap between places as if walking through some invisible doorway.

As if his thoughts summoned the immortal warrior, Fenrys swaggered out from the shadows below deck and smirked at them all before taking up his sentry position near the foremast. They were all on a schedule of watches and patrols, Lysandra and Rowan usually tasked with flying far out of sight to survey behind and ahead or communicate with the two escort ships. Aedion hadn’t dared tell the shifter that he often counted the minutes

until she returned, that his chest always felt unbearably tight until he spotted whatever winged or finned form she wore returning to them.

Like his cousin, he had no doubt the shifter wouldn’t take well to his


Lysandra was carefully watching Aelin and Rowan, their blades like quicksilver, as they met each other blow for blow. “You’ve been doing well with your lessons,” Aedion told the shifter.

Lysandra’s green eyes crinkled. They’d all been taking turns walking the shifter through handling various weapons and hand-to-hand combat. Lysandra knew some from her time with Arobynn—he’d taught her as a way of ensuring the survival of his investment, she’d told him.

But she wanted to know more. How to kill men in a myriad of ways. It shouldn’t have thrilled him as much as it had. Not when she’d laughed off the claim Aedion had made on the beach that day in Skull’s Bay. She hadn’t mentioned it again. He hadn’t been stupid enough to, either.

Aedion trailed Lysandra, unable to help it, as she drifted toward where the queen and prince sparred, Dorian scooting over on the steps to silently offer her a space. Aedion marked the gesture and the king’s respect, shoving aside his own warring feelings about it as he lingered above them, and focused on his cousin and Rowan.

But they’d worked themselves into an impasse—enough so that Rowan called it off and sheathed his sword. Then flicked Aelin’s nose when she looked pissy at not winning. Aedion laughed under his breath, glancing to the shifter as the queen and prince strode for the water jug and glasses against the stair railing and helped themselves.

He was about to offer Lysandra a final round in the ring before the sun set when Dorian braced his arms on his knees and said to Aelin through the stair railing, “I don’t think she’ll do anything if we let her out.”

Aelin took a dainty sip of her water, still breathing hard. “Did you arrive at that conclusion before, during, or after you visited her in the middle of the night?”

Oh, gods. It was going to be that sort of conversation.

Dorian gave a half smile. “You have a preference for immortal warriors.

Why can’t I?”

It was the faint click of her glass on the small table that made Aedion brace himself—really start calculating the layout of the various decks.

Fenrys still monitored them from the foremast, Lysandra remained on Dorian’s other side. He supposed that, standing above Dorian on the stairs and Aelin beside them, he’d be right in the middle.

Exactly where he’d sworn not to be.

Rowan, on the other side of Aelin, said to Dorian, “Is there a reason, Majesty, that you believe the witch should be free?”

Aelin shot him a look of pure flame. Good—let the prince deal with her wrath. Even days after the claiming that had left everyone pretending they didn’t notice the two puncture wounds on Rowan’s neck or the delicate, vicious scratches over his shoulders, the Fae Prince still looked like a male who had barely survived a storm and had enjoyed every wild second of it.

Not to mention the twin wounds on Aelin’s neck this morning. He’d almost begged her to find a scarf.

“Why don’t we lock one of you in a room”—Dorian pointed with his chin at the Fae warriors across the deck, at Lysandra to his right—“and see how well you fare after so much time.”

Aelin said, “Every inch of her has been designed to ensnare men. To make them think she’s harmless.”

“Trust me, Manon Blackbeak is anything but harmless.”

Aelin charged on, “She and her kind are killers. They are raised without conscience. Regardless of what her grandmother did to her, she will always be that way. I will not endanger the lives of the people on this ship so you can sleep better at night.” Her eyes shone with the unspoken jab.

They all shifted, and Aedion was about to ask Lysandra to spar, conversation closed, when Dorian said a bit too quietly, “I am king, you know.”

Turquoise-and-gold eyes snapped to Dorian. Aedion could almost see the words Aelin fought to think through, her temper begging her to shut down the challenge. With a few choice sentences, she could fillet his spirit like a fish, further shredding the scraps of the man who remained after the Valg prince had violated him. And in doing so, lose a strong ally she’d need not just in this war, but if they survived it. And—those eyes softened a bit. A friend. She’d lose that, too.

Aelin rubbed at the scars on her wrists, stark in the golden light of the setting sun. Ones that made Aedion sick to look at. She said to Dorian after a moment, “Controlled movements. If she leaves the room, she stays under

guard—one of the Fae at any given time, plus one of us. Shackles on her wrists, not feet. No chains for the room, but a guard outside the door.”

Aedion caught the thumb Rowan brushed over one of those scars on her wrist.

Dorian just said, “Fine.”

Aedion debated telling the king that a compromise from Aelin should be outright celebrated.

Aelin’s voice dropped to that lethal purr. “After you finished flirting with her that day in Oakwald, she and her coven tried to kill me.”

“You provoked her,” Dorian countered. “And I sit here today because of what she risked when she came to Rifthold twice.”

Aelin wiped the sweat from her brow. “She has her own reasons, and I highly doubt it was because she, in her one hundred years of killing, decided your pretty face would turn her good.”

“Yours turned Rowan from three centuries of a blood oath.”

It was Aedion’s father who said calmly as he left his perch near Abraxos on the prow to approach them, “I’d suggest, Majesty, that you pick another argument.”

Indeed, Aedion’s every instinct came to attention at the frozen anger now lining the prince’s every muscle.

Dorian noticed it, too, and said, perhaps a bit guiltily, “I meant no offense, Rowan.”

Gavriel angled his head, golden hair sliding over his broad shoulder, and said with a ghost of a smile, “Don’t worry, Majesty. Fenrys has given Whitethorn enough shit for it to last him another three centuries.”

Aedion blinked at the humor, the hint of a smile.

But Aelin saved him the effort of deciding whether or not to answer that smile by saying to Dorian, “Well? Let’s see if the Wing Leader would like to take a turn about the deck before dinner.”

Dorian was right to look wary, Aedion decided. But Aelin was already heading for the opposite side of the deck, Fenrys peeling off from his post by the foremast, that edged, bitter gaze sliding over them all while they passed.

But Fenrys would follow, no doubt. Like hell would they unleash the witch without all of them there. Even the cadre seemed to understand that.

So Aedion trailed after his queen into the dimness of the ship, night setting in above them, and prayed Aelin and Manon weren’t about to rip the boat to shreds.



Climbing into bed with a witch. Aelin ground her teeth as she headed for Manon’s room.

Dorian had once been notorious when it came to women, but this … Aelin snorted, wishing Chaol were present, if only to see the look on his face.

Even if it eased something tight in her chest to know Chaol and Faliq were in the South. Perhaps raising an army to cross the Narrow Sea and march northward. If they were all lucky.

If. Aelin hated that word. But … her friendship with Dorian was precarious enough. She’d yielded to his request partially out of some scrap of kindness, but mostly because she knew there was more Manon had to tell them about Morath. About Erawan. Lots more.

And she doubted the witch would be forthcoming—especially when Aelin had lost her temper just a little bit this morning. And maybe it made her a conniving, hideous person for using Dorian’s interest as a veil to butter up the witch, but … it was war.

Aelin flexed her hand as she neared the witch’s room, the lights swaying in the rougher waves they’d encountered since midday.

Rowan had healed the bruise on the back of her knuckles from the blow she’d dealt the witch—and she’d thanked him by locking the door to their room and getting on her knees before him. She could still feel his fingers fisted in her hair, still hear his groan—

Rowan, now a step beside her, whipped his head in her direction. What the hell are you thinking about?

But his pupils had flared enough that she was well aware he knew precisely where her mind had gone as they walked down to the witch’s cabin. That Fenrys hung far back down the hall told her enough about the change in her scent.

The usual things, she shot back at Rowan with a simpering smile.

Killing, crocheting, how to make you emit those noises again—

Rowan’s face took on a pained expression that had her grinning. Especially as his throat bobbed while he swallowed—hard. Round two, he seemed to say. As soon as this is dealt with. We’re having round twoThis time, get to see what noises you make.

Aelin nearly walked into the doorpost of Manon’s open cabin. Rowan’s low laugh made her focus, made her stop smiling like a lust-addled, lovesick idiot—

Manon was sitting upright in bed, golden eyes darting between Rowan and Dorian and her.

Fenrys slid in behind them, his attention going right to the witch. No doubt stunned by the beauty, the grace, the blah-blah-blah perfectness of her.

Manon said, low and flat, “Who is this?”

Dorian lifted a brow, following her gaze. “You’ve met him before. He’s Fenrys—sworn warrior of Queen Maeve.”

It was the narrowing of Manon’s eyes that had some instinct pricking. The flare of the witch’s nostrils as she scented the male, his smell barely detectable in the cramped cabin—

“No, he’s not,” Manon said.

The witch’s iron nails flashed out a heartbeat before Fenrys struck.

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